Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

What will it take to provide leadership in public history in the 1990s? This question shaped a year-long evaluation by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) during which our staff examined our basic as­sumptions about the agency’s work and charted new direc­tions for the future. This self­study, funded by the National Endowment for the Humani­ties (NEH), revealed several exciting opportunities to ex­pand upon the strong founda­tions we have built during the past eighty years and to take advantage of the growing interest in history among new audiences throughout the Commonwealth.

Conducted by PHMC staff with the assistance of several consultants, the self-study concluded that an effective public history program de­pends on our capacity to engage the public in our work in meaningful ways, and our capacity to develop an interdis­ciplinary approach to plan and implement our programs.

I heartily support these conclusions because they re­flect an operating philosophy that moves our agency forward and closer to the core concerns of government and society in general. All programs need to be evaluated according to this philosophy and resources allocated accordingly. We are now making the assumption that our process is as impor­tant as our product or service, that our programs need to be driven as much by the general concerns and values of society as they are by our professional values. Tf we are not mindful of this central conclusion, we risk moving our agency to the margins of state government and society as a whole.

The self-study report calls for a change in thinking, atti­tude, and orientation, rather than changes in organization. We need to reposition the Com­mission to address the needs of ordinary people and their history, rather than concen­trate on the history of the elite. We need to reinvent the agency and emphasize that collabora­tion with audiences is as vital as our adherence to profes­sional standards. Finally, we need to repackage the PHMC to develop new approaches to existing programs that take advantage of the operating philosophy called for by the self-study report.

To make the findings of the self-study more concrete, we have focused on two agency­-wide programs – industrial history and African American history – and a major exhibi­tion on the Keystone State’s social history planned for The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. These are not new programs, but they will now be shaped by the findings of the self-study – by the need for interdisciplinary work among our staff and closer collaboration with our diverse audiences. Our new approach to these subjects will be re­flected in exhibits, tours, con­ferences, and public programs, as well as by Pennsylvania Heritage and various publica­tions of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director